The Prayer Language of Racial Reconciliation
Lament is the prayer language when God’s people encounter the brokenness of the world. It’s the biblical way to express sorrow when we don’t know what to say. Lament vocalizes concern when life is hard and uncertain. This minor-key prayer keeps us talking to God and one another when pain and fear invade our lives. Instead of allowing silence to deepen the divisions, we can join together in lament.
Lament is a starting point that breaks through our silence.
How Lament Helps
As I’ve studied and written about lament, parallels have emerged between helping grieving people and racial reconciliation. It has become clear to me that lament can be helpful in the loaded conversations or the temptation toward silence. Whether the lament is expressed directly to God, to a friend at a coffee shop, to a living-room small group, or to a congregation during a pastoral prayer on Sunday, it can be a starting point.
How does turning to God in prayer, laying out our complaints, asking boldly, and choosing to trust help us navigate this silence-laden terrain? Let me suggest three ways.
It Acknowledges the Brokenness of the World
Pain births lament. It deals honestly with the real world. Lament candidly identifies the brokenness around us and in us. It acknowledges the gap between God’s design for the world and our experience. Lament is the way the Bible talks about life in a sinful world.
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers. (Ps. 5:1–5)
Lament can be used to pray about the challenges of living in a world marked by the brokenness of racial division. Our prayers can acknowledge the presence of injustice. We can mourn the reality of misunderstanding.
Lament gives us a unified voice to grieve together over a broken world.
It Refuses to Remain Silent
Lament breaks through painful silence. It is how the psalmist prayed as he struggled talking to God. It’s how to pray when God feels far away. Lament is the voice of grief when we’re tempted to remain silent. It helps when we don’t know what to say.Lament is the voice of grief when we’re tempted to remain silent. It helps when we don’t know what to say. Click To Tweet
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Ps. 77:2–4)
What’s more, when the psalmist struggles with injustice, he prays through the pain:
Be not silent, O God of my praise!
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues. (Ps. 109:1–2)
Even while the facts are unclear and emotions run high, lamenting the presence of racial tension is better than silence. We can acknowledge the hurt our minority brothers and sisters feel.
Lament refuses to allow silence to rule our lives.
It Seeks God’s Help
In order for a prayer to be a lament, it must move through pain to a recommitment of trust in God. In this way, lament provides a life-giving and unifying language for the church. While we may not understand all the complexities of racism and injustice, every Christian should be able to affirm that we need God’s help. We should be able to cry out together for God’s grace when misunderstanding, hurt, fear, prejudice, and injustice invade our relationships, especially within the body of Christ. Laments protest against the brokenness of the world by seeking God’s help. They refuse to allow the effects of sin to create a state of resignation.
Laments keep looking to God:
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Ps. 22:2–5)
When we are overwhelmed or battling fear, laments call upon God to come to our aid. They invite us to ask for God’s deliverance:
Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. (Ps. 25:19–20)
Laments appeal to God while pain and confusion are in the air. They give us an opportunity to reaffirm our desire for unity and reconciliation. While we might not even agree on all the facts, we can seek the God of all grace to help us love one another. While solutions are complicated or unclear, lament could acknowledge our collective need for God’s intervention. Surely we can all agree on that! A lament could be a way to express our sorrow and reaffirm our trust.
Laments are not the only solution. But they’re better than silence.
Silence More Than Hurtful
If you are a white evangelical, let me encourage you to consider not only how you might be tempted to be silent, but also where you could take a first step toward lament. I know it’s complicated. However, our historic silence deepens the divide in the church. It’s part of the problem.
The enemy uses silence to create more pain and deepen the divide.
Additionally, our silence hinders change. If white Christians fail to acknowledge the issues of racial tension or injustice, cultural norms become further solidified. From the jail cell in Birmingham, Martin Luther King leveled this rebuke:
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.
Silence isn’t merely hurtful; it can be complicit.
Lament could be the strong, effective voice with a biblical sound. It could break the stronghold of the status quo. The church, especially white evangelicals, could be a prophetic voice, leading the way forward and building a bridge that spans the historic divide.
As we end our silence through lament, we’ll start to end the cycle of misunderstanding and distrust. And we’ll help our minority brothers and sisters know we care.
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends. (Ps. 7:12-16)
**Content adapted from Weep with Me by Mark Vroegop. Used by permission of Crossway.**
 King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”